OAKLAND – With Barry Bonds’ absence explained by justifiable suspicion and displeasing disposition, David Ortiz stood before thousands of adoring fans Sunday at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony wearing the beatific smile of a winner.
Ortiz got his. A plaque in the hallowed hallways of Cooperstown, where Bonds, the greatest hitter in Giants history, remains persona non grata.
The hypocrisy sent me seeking answers from one of the most respected men in baseball. Perhaps Dusty Baker, after 54 years in Major League Baseball, could explain why Ortiz entered the Hall in his first year of eligibility and Bonds was smacked with a nay for 10 consecutive years.
“Same way Jeff Kent didn’t get in,” Baker said Monday afternoon, a couple hours before his Astros took a 7-5 loss to the A’s at the Coliseum. “Same way Pete Rose doesn’t get in. Same way Roger Clemens doesn’t get in.
“The voters (supposedly) like guys of high character, guys with no marks or any suspicions about their reputation -- or maybe it’s how you treated the media.”
Baker, who in between managerial stops has served as an analyst for ESPN, conceded that East Coast bias likely is a factor.
“(MLB) is more partial to Boston and New York and the East Coast teams,” he said. “Whenever we go to the playoffs, we always have to see what New York or Boston is going to do before we can even determine what time we’re going to be on TV.”
Ortiz came to Boston at the right time. With him as their most impactful hitter and emotional leader, the Red Sox in 2004 won their first World Series in 86 years. They won another in 2007, and another in 2013. Big Papi was voted Series MVP in ’04 and ’13.
He was a designated hitter and 10-time All-Star who only twice finished higher than second in the regular-season MVP voting.
Bonds played left field and won eight Gold Gloves. He was a 14-time All-Star. He won seven MVP awards; no one else has more than three. He retired as the all-time home-run king, with 762. No player in the post-integration era has a higher career WAR than his 162.8, which ranks behind only Babe Ruth among hitters.
Ortiz got his plaque in Cooperstown not because he was superior to Bonds but because the suspicion linked to him -- evidence of testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 -- was wiped clean by his affability with media but also his exquisite five-word expression of the emotions roiling a wounded city in the wake of a horrific bombing during the 2013 Boston Marathon:
“This is our f------g city!”
For all that Bonds did, with the Pittsburgh Pirates and certainly with the Giants, he never seized a moment of tragedy to galvanize the community. Nor did he ever test positive for any PED test.
“I know,” Baker said when reminded of Ortiz’s positive test. “And I love Papi. But if you dig deep enough, everybody has something suspicious or something that they aren’t crazy about everybody knowing.
“There was none better than Barry. When you talk about the best of that era, people always want you admit this or that. Well, Mark McGwire admitted and he’s not in. He should be in, too.”
What Bonds did, before and during his well-publicized dance with pharmacists dealing in exotic PEDs, was play baseball better than anyone else for the majority most of his 22-year career.
No call to the Hall, though. Not for Barry, despite more than 50 others -- players, managers, commissioner Bud Selig -- whose careers ran parallel to the so-called steroids era having their day in Cooperstown.
“Barry Bonds, I don’t think there’s ever going to be a human being capable of doing what he did when he played,” Ortiz told reporters in January, after hearing the 2022 results. “He’s special. Sometimes it’s going to be hard for people not in this game to understand that.
“Barry Bonds, to me, separated himself from the game at the highest level.”
And yet, he remains on the outside of the Hall. Bonds was named on 66 percent of the ballots for 2022 but drops off the ballot after 10 years because he never reached the 75-percent threshold.
Baker is, like many others, befuddled. So much so that despite his managerial credentials -- 2051 wins (ninth all time), three Manager of the Year awards and a higher win percentage than Hall of Famer Tony La Russa -- he is less than secure about his chances of induction.
“Who knows? Maybe,” he said. “There are people who will say I don’t do this. Or I don’t know this. Or I haven’t won the big one. But, hey man, I’ve done the best job that I can -- especially under the circumstances.
“If it had not been for this scandal (in Houston), there’s a chance that I wouldn’t have gotten another shot.”
Dusty began his managerial career with the Giants in 1993, seven years after ending a 19-year playing career. The eight men with more wins are in the Hall, as are two of the three he passed this season. The third, former Giants manager Bruce Bochy (2,003 wins), is not yet eligible but three World Series titles make him a lock.
With or without a World Series win, Baker almost certainly will get in. But with voters being so mercurial and subjective in their selections, who can blame him for thinking maybe he won’t?